NSW Ambulance claims a new network will improve services throughout the system. Photo: Damian Baker
The anatomy of Sydney’s impending Paramedic Response Network has been revealed in new documents that plot the location of every ambulance standby point and superstation across the metropolitan area.
NSW Ambulance says the network would improve services throughout the system.
But the Health Services Union warned it would see patients with medical emergencies wait longer for an ambulance to reach them in suburbs furthest away from a superstation.
Two more superstations have been proposed in the Eastern Suburbs and the CBD, according to the NSW Ambulance map obtained by Fairfax Media.
Nine superstations were already planned for Penrith, Blacktown, Northmead, Liverpool, Bankstown, Kogarah, Caringbah, Artarmon and the inner west.
The 14 existing stations that will be downgraded to paramedic response points – or “standby points” – at Tregear, Colyton, Auburn, Macquarie Fields, Fairfield, Menai, Engadine, Caringbah, Marrickville, Drummoyne, Concord, Paddington, Bondi and Maroubra.
Paramedics currently attached to these locations would move to the nearest superstations; the hubs of the “hub-and-spokes” model, with the standby points forming the spokes.
Another six stations are under review and could also be downgraded (Randwick, Rockdale, Hurstville, Campsie, Green Valley and Parramatta). An additional eight standby points – demountable facilities – have also been confirmed across the network.
By centralising staff, paramedics would clock on and off at the superstations with the aim of making their way to the response points during their shifts.
The HSU says the new model will see response times blow out in areas furthest from the superstations.
“This will breed longer response times,” said HSU secretary and former paramedic Gerard Hayes.
Paramedics would likely not make it over to their response points from the superstations where they would start their shifts.
“They’ll be called to a job straight from the superstation and that’ll be it, especially during surge times” he said.
“Once we start seeing bed blocks and ambulances banked up at hospitals, which we will see in winter, paramedics will never get to these response points,” he said.
The Colyton station (due to become a response point) is roughly 12 kilometres away from the closest superstations at Penrith and Blacktown.
Senior paramedic and HSU delegate Glenn Wise said a centralised system risked squandering the vital local knowledge paramedics relied on.
“If the Concord crew get job at Homebush Park they know the entrance points, the gates, all the tiny access roads. A station at Caringbah knows the fire trails in the national park, where to go to the access the gate keys.
“You know the local firies, the local police, the lifesavers, and all of that affects the way you access patients and the timeliness of that access.
The senior paramedic said working in a small team had a value.
“We know each other’s kids, we have BBQs together. We have each other’s backs and check on each other’s welfare. All that helps us cope and build the resilience you need for this job.”
But Chief Superintendent Clare Beech – director of the Paramedic Response Network program – said having larger numbers of paramedics under one roof allowed NSW Ambulance to more effectively deploy our resources across the network.
“This will enable us to be very sophisticated and progressive about the way we deploy our ambulances. It allows us to move to a much more dynamic model,” Supt Beech said.
“It’s important for the community to understand we will respond to patients from the closest possible location. That is often not a station,” she said of the program, which considered ten-year projections of escalations in demand, population, demographics, new developments and roads and traffic.
But without a significant increase in the number of paramedics the network was “just shifting deck chairs on a sinking ship,” Mr Hayes said.
“I challenge the ambulance service to say they are happy with the current staffing numbers and admit that they don’t need more staff to deliver appropriate services.
The union is pushing for an additional 800 paramedics be deployed across the state.
“They are under resourced and understaffed and they need to stand up for their people”
NSW Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord said the network would not work because it was not supported by an increase in paramedic numbers.
Mr Secord said said the plan was “reckless” and would “put patients’ safety at risk” pointing to the “failed” hub and spokes model employed in the UK that resulted in longer wait times and greater distances to hospitals.
NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said Mr Secord was “whipping up unnecessary fear on this matter”.
“This will result in a much more efficient way of delivering the right emergency care to patients,” Ms Skinner said.
Superintendent Beech said the service was doing the best with the resources they were given, and the network would allow the service to prepare for workforce growth in the future.
“It’s about ensuring that we are using our most valuable resource – our paramedics – as efficiently as we can.”
Sydney’s planned network could not be compared to the UK roll out, Supt Beech said.
“Every jurisdiction is entirely different.”